Wednesday 4 January 2012. Fleet Voice Column.
There are plenty of big plans afoot in London for 2012, but one of the biggest changes to the capital city has already taken place. It’s the latest round of changes to the Low Emissions Zone (LEZ).
First introduced in 2008 to keep the dirtiest vehicles out of the city’s streets, the LEZ covers most of Greater London, or just about everything inside of the M25. So far, it’s been a success in helping London to clean up its act and reduce particulate matter (PM) in the air, which can be a cause of asthma and other breathing problems.
Even so, London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, reckons the capital’s air could be a whole lot clearer, saying: “Delivering cleaner air to Londoners is a key goal in creating a better quality of life. This is why the more stringent regulations have arrived for 2012, especially as this is London’s Olympic year.”
The results of the newly upgraded Air Quality Strategy from the Mayor’s Office mean any van or minibus 10-years old or more will have to steer clear of London to avoid a hefty fine.
Don’t think you can just nip into town for a quick delivery, either, as the scheme is using London’s many Congestion Charge cameras to police the centre of the capital, while the Vehicle Operating Services Agency (VOSA) will be keeping an eye on other routes into the city.
Ignore the LEZ and you could face a fine of £250 for a van, pick-up or 4x4. Larger vehicles will face fines of £500, and both of these penalties double if they are not paid within 14 days of the notice being issued. So, it could be very expensive for anyone who tries to slip through the net.
Even if you are an honest soul and pay the daily charge, you still face punitive bills for running an older vehicle into Greater London. A van, pick-up or 4x4 deemed too dirty for the LEZ will have to stump up £100 per day to enter the zone.
This charge is not like the Congestion Charge that operates between 7am and 6pm. Nope, the LEZ charge runs 24 hours a day, every day without exemption.
While most company car drivers will be wholly unaffected by the new, stricter LEZ, there will be plenty of businesses looking at this and wondering how they are going to afford to carry on working within Greater London.
The LEZ now means any van registered on a Y-plate is just not welcome inside the M25.
The Freight Transport Association’s Natalie Chapman commented: “For any tradesman using a van that is 10-years old or more, the LEZ is now yet another consideration and we suspect many will not be prepared for it. The FTA believes many honest working trades people will now be faced with substantial fines and daily charges just to carry out their jobs.
“At a time when many of these small businesses have struggled to remain viable over the past three years of recession, the LEZ is set to catch out a great many. We can only advise those with non-compliant vehicles to stay out of London, though this may prove impossible for many who need their vehicle to do their job.”
Also affected are around 10% of London’s famous black cabs. It’s reckoned one in 10 of these cabs are now older than 15-years and their licences have been revoked for work in Greater London. This means approximately 2,600 black cabs will be banished from the capital.
The age limit on black cabs will be on a rolling basis, so as a 15-year old cab’s licence expires, it will not be able to renew again for use in London. The Mayor’s Office is quick to point out this means the taxi fleet will be upgraded with cleaner vehicles as newer cabs emit considerably less PM.
Transport for London’s Nick Fairholme says: “The new standards introduced in January are vital to our continued efforts to tackle pollution. The vast majority of owners and organisations have taken steps to prepare. Transport for London has a team of people in place to provide practical advice to anyone who remains concerned about how these new standards will impact them.”
The Mayor’s Office is also encouraging those with vehicles affected by the LEZ to investigate having a particulate filter fitted to make their van, 4x4 or other vehicle compliant. While this may help a small number of business people entering Greater London, it’s still an added expense.
Green Party member of the London Assembly Darren Johnson believes Transport for London and the Mayor’s Office has not done enough to help small businesses. He said: “Few incentives are in place to help cut the cost of vehicle replacement. The Mayor has failed to help out hard-pressed individuals and small businesses by funding a targeted scrappage and conversion scheme.”
Darren Johnson added: “Black cab operators have been promised help to update their cabs, but this has been done at the expense of funding for electric and hydrogen cabs in the future.”
Cough up or collapse
All of this leaves drivers who run small businesses and rely on vehicles affected by the LEZ in no better position than either coughing up the cash to drive into Greater London or be left spluttering out of business altogether.
An equally worrying prospect for business drivers is that where London leads, others tend to follow. The capital’s Congestion Charging Zone may not have been taken up elsewhere in the UK, but the LEZ is a far more likely export from London to other cities around the UK.
Should this happen, hundreds of thousands of small businesses face financial hardship simply to carry on working.
Then there is reality the goal posts will shift as time marches on and the standards for the LEZ will be made ever more stringent. In itself, this is a good move as we need to move to cleaner transport and better air quality. But it must be carried out in consultation with business and company car fleets, regardless of size.
However, this is implanted now and in the future, one thing is certain: small businesses face an Olympic effort in London long before that flaming torch has reached the capital.